Sabby Gill, Executive Vice President, Epicor International
The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, a tumultuous US presidential campaign and ongoing events in the Middle East have once again revealed insecurities in the global economy as markets fluctuate sharply on an almost daily basis. Many markets in the Asia-Pacific region too, are experiencing a slowdown as manufacturing hubs have started to move to other, cheaper countries. Unfortunately, these types of macro-economic events can have a reverberating impact on industry because international supply chains are often the first to be affected.
In the aftermath of the surprise US election result, for example, the markets are still taking stock of how the new presidency will affect business. The FTSE 100 index fell nearly 2% in early trading on 9 November before recovering to trade flat at 6,838 points. Other major European stock markets edged lower, with money flowing into safe haven stocks, gold and currencies including the yen. This uncertainty may cause investors to pause, or reconsider their ventures – something that will soon have a knock-on effect on industry.
Today’s global manufacturers operate within complex supply chains that require a coordinated flow of information, services, goods and payments within and across international boundaries. But market volatility and national and international events affect the way companies manage everything from distribution and manufacturing through to invoicing and materials sourcing.
With so many of these critical functions in flux, organisations need to optimise their supply chains simply to remain competitive.
New economic realities
The new global economy is changing the way companies view and use their supply chains to compete and gain market share. International companies are managing multiple supply chains, and they’re counting on those operations to not only deliver goods on time, but to tailor and respond to divergent customer and supplier expectations regarding pricing and packages.
These new realities of globalisation mean that businesses should do everything they can to try to insulate their operations for political and economic uncertainties. In recent times, the slowdown in growth in China, emerging markets’ financial vulnerabilities, the impact of terrorism on cross-border movements, and the fallout from Brexit, have all weighed heavily on global business sentiment.
In the case of Brexit, for example, in the aftermath of the vote, the immediate fall in sterling led to soaring costs for businesses that relied on importing, prompting many to reconsider their sourcing strategies. However, the experience can be different for different sectors of the industry. UK manufacturing output fell sharply following the Brexit vote, but exports, particularly in automotive manufacturing sector rose sharply.
Drill down deeper, into the global supply chain itself, and further alarm bells are ringing. The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply’s Q2 Risk Index — produced by Dun & Bradstreet — shows one of the highest levels of supply chain risk since records began in 1995.
Businesses need to ensure they are prepared before the global operating environment becomes high risk. Unfortunately, many businesses are trying to apply outmoded processes and technologies to global supply chain operations. Often, existing systems are not capable of meeting modern demands. If a company needs to reroute an inbound container shipment, for example, a lack of visibility into the overall system can turn a simple decision to redirect a shipment from one port to another into a problem that ripples across the supply chain, and results in higher costs and decreased efficiency.
Agile and flexible
In developing contingency plans to deal with the impact of macro-economic events on the global business environment, enterprises need to ensure their supply chains are agile and flexible enough to adapt and react quickly to changes. It’s all about having the right insight and interpreting changes in the business landscape quickly enough to stay competitive.
Fortunately, manufacturing is an industry that generates high volumes of data, and there is therefore an abundance of rich operational information available from every stage in the production process and delivery chain.
A new generation of business software is enabling advanced levels of insight that is key to running and managing operations to support the needs of international manufacturers. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, for example, offer a comprehensive way to identify and track operational efficiencies and growth opportunities in real-time, using data about performance throughout the whole supply chain.
This ensures that businesses are able to identify challenges or problems that can quickly be fixed before they escalate. For example, should demand start falling in a particular market the trend is immediately visible. There is no waiting to analyse monthly or quarterly statistics — production can be adjusted instantly, eliminating waste and maintaining accurate stock levels.
Preparing for the future
No company can completely insulate itself from national and international events that can disrupt the critical functions of the manufacturing process. But technology is available that allows business leaders to make sound decisions, based on deep and reliable insight into both financial and operational performance, that helps to minimise the impact of these events on the business.
Replacing complex and unwieldy old systems with new technology platforms enables organisations to swiftly react to opportunities and challenges in an uncertain world economy. The enterprises most likely to survive and thrive in the coming years are those prepared to invest now in business models capable of delivering this sophisticated, flexible, real-time responsiveness.
What The Pandemic Has Taught Us About Remote Work
By Anthony Lamoureux, Strategy and Development Director at Velocity Smart Technology
Before the turn of the decade – which already feels like it was at least a few millennia ago – remote working was something of a fringe professional concept. While nice in theory, many established businesses thought it might create more headaches than it was worth and, as such, was best left to the agile young start-ups who could afford to throw out the traditional corporate playbook.
While some forward-leaning businesses might have given employees the odd day to work from home, it was far from the norm. How could they be sure those employees would really get any work done? And without the watchful eye of middle management, what’s stopping them from turning a coffee break into an afternoon down the pub?
But one global pandemic later, and things are very different. Practically overnight, businesses no longer had the luxury of toying with the idea as a far-off possibility – they either had to adapt to a remote workforce or close shop altogether.
Has it been the unproductive mess many feared? Quite the opposite.
The revolution happened on a Zoom call
Not only are employees able to stay safe and socially distance – they’re often more productive, happier, and have more disposable income with less travel and eating out. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, as studies have made the case for remote working for some time. A 2018 study by FlexJobs found that 65% of respondents were more productive when working from home, while a 2019 report by Owl Labs notes that 80% of remote workers are happy with their job, compared to 55% of on-site workers.
Businesses themselves are also realising the benefits of a remote workforce can lower their costs. Office space in London is the most expensive in the world – coming in at around 500 pounds per square foot per year for a prime location – so if having a grand central office isn’t as necessary as we’ve been all led to believe, CFOs will be placing that expense under increasing scrutiny. As Forbes contributor Amar Hussain affirms, the cost-saving implications of remote workers alone make it a huge draw.
With 73% of people in the UK believing that flexible working is the new normal, and future pandemics all but guaranteed, business leaders and IT directors need to ask themselves a few important questions. Is their workforce sufficiently equipped for remote productivity? Are they prepared for the challenges unique to this paradigm? What other parts of their business operations might be holding their business back? How can they ensure all remaining employee contact is COVID-19 secure?
Staying one step ahead of remote working challenges
Increased reliance on technology is the standout challenge of the new remote-working world. When every employee needs a functioning laptop and steady internet connection to connect with their peers and fulfil the bare minimum of their duties, they’re one technological hiccup away from grinding to an unproductive, radio-silent halt.
Remote tech support is nothing new, but it has unavoidable limitations. If an employee infects their machine with malware, a remote technician should easily be able to take control of the machine and remedy the situation without ever having to be in close proximity with the hardware or the click-happy employee. However, this technique is actually abused by scammers who trick their victims into installing a Remote Administration Tool that gives them free reign over their files, passwords, and other valuable info – so always err on the side of caution.
But when the hardware itself is the issue, many remote tech support solutions feel sorely out-dated. Say a member of your team accidentally knocks their work laptop off their makeshift balcony workstation. It falls 6 storeys and, against all odds, doesn’t survive intact. Now begins the long and arduous process of making contact with the tech team, handing in the broken machine and waiting for a replacement.
Even today, this kind of issue takes on average 2.9 days to resolve, and when that employee depends on their laptop for all their work, you’re looking at nearly three whole days of wasted time that will inevitably have an impact on the company’s bottom line.
Contactless IT support empowers the remote workforce
Thankfully, remote IT solutions exist that enable businesses to provide IT equipment to employees at all hours of the day – while meeting social distancing guidelines and ensuring devices are disinfected and collected safely. Smart Locker solutions allow employees to replace their IT assets within an hour, without having to deal with an IT technician or wait days for a workable machine. And with COVID-19 Secure features that include a Device Disinfect Check and Device Quarantine, employees can rest assured that their exposure to unwelcome pathogens is kept to the absolute minimum.
So what has the coronavirus pandemic taught us about remote working? In a nutshell, it’s here to stay. For a company to thrive in this new paradigm, it needs to evolve how it gives support to its remote employees to ensure they’re equipped and capable to give their all.
The art of change management for finance and accounting teams
By Magali Michael, Director at Yooz
The Covid-19 crisis has had a dual impact on businesses across the world.
On one hand, existing projects such as remote working and new forms of teamwork were forced to accelerate. On the other hand, it highlighted some of the downsides of not moving forward with change, including losing customers and experiencing heightened competitive pressure.
Digital transformation has become an inescapable reality, but for the better. As American investor Warren Buffet once said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”
2020 has forced digital transformation within almost all business functions, including finance departments that have lagged somewhat on digital initiatives, tending to focus more generally on marketing and the client experience.
According to Gartner, the health crisis has motivated almost 70% of board directors to accelerate their digital transformation strategies.
In finance and accounting, communication and teamwork (44%) and technology and infrastructure (31%) are among the main challenges according to a Blackline survey. More than eight out of ten professionals also expect to see faster digital adoption as a side-effect of the crisis.
The reality of digital transformation is far more complicated. There are as many different digital transformations as there are companies, with widely diverse contexts, strategies, constraints, and complexities found within each organization.
However, three key words are commonly found in any digital strategy: technology, organisational, and human.
Three pillars of digital transformation
Each common feature has its own levels of complexity and unique challenges. It is therefore necessary to combine several facets, ranging from the easiest (technology can be brought into a company) to the less easy (existing organizations need to evolve) and arguably the most difficult (integrating human factors).
By definition, people’s behaviour varies. Uses, corporate culture, and corporate values must adapt constantly, so change management concerning people is very clearly a key piece of the puzzle.
Still, it is a difficult mission because the transversal aspects required for digital transformation directly confront people’s individualism. Change can cause anxiety and worry regarding employment, skills, and collaboration methods – think back to the histeria around AI taking people’s jobs.
Companies that experience the greatest difficulties carrying out their digital transformation are those that consider digital transformation above all to be a technology project that people will follow.
McKinsey has observed that 70% of companies fail to reach their objectives, while Forrester puts it at around 60%.
Based on the three key principles, we can predict that the success of a digital transformation process is only 10% based on technology tools, 40% based on organizational adaptation and 50% on effective change management.
In other words, professional expertise and soft skills (non-technical skills related to how people work) weigh heavily in the functional richness of a given technology solution, however high-performance the solution may be.
American economist Gary Hamel provides a good summary of the pitfalls facing companies when it comes to change:
“Today’s organizations were simply never designed to change proactively and deeply—they were built for discipline and efficiency, enforced through hierarchy and routinization.”
The majority of organisations could not efficiently adapt to external shocks that force rapid change, such as a serious and sudden global health crisis, as change is considered in most companies as a simple interruption of the status quo, often imposed by upper management.
In order of importance, analysts at Gartner identified five barriers blocking change: risk aversion, poor management quality, directors’ approach, lack of commitment by employees, and employees’ lack of trust in the overall vision.
How can businesses receive ‘quick wins’?
The first step is to avoid underestimating the challenge. Be aware of the problem, particularly regarding an approach overly focused on technology to the detriment of usage, cultural issues, and human factors.
It is also important to question why digital transformation is not generating the expected results. Failure to succeed may be related to the specifics of both corporate culture and individuals, with their values and beliefs, and these aspects must be identified to distinguish those that pose a problem from those that are likely to boost the process in the right direction.
As Edgar Shein, professor of management at MIT, put it: “Culture is the primary source of resistance to change. It is therefore necessary to focus simultaneously on the environment, beliefs, and behaviors.”
The next principle is to set a clear direction to avoid improvisation and leverage existing features and available resources. This involves knowing how to find benefit in the unexpected, which can be used as a strength instead of a constraint.
The third principle is that it is wise to take on work projects that allow rapid deployment, while generating strong visibility, immediate benefits, and driving behaviors and practices forward.
For example, in the finance function, that is exactly what happens with accounts payable (AP) automation, which combines low levels of investment in terms of time and budget, especially when using Software-as-a-Service.
AP Automation brings maximum exposure concerning many processes with solutions that are simple to deploy. User satisfaction rises thanks to the elimination of time-consuming tasks, coupled with better understanding of daily gains.
Change is also generally more welcomed and accepted with this approach, as it reduces concern within the business and presents the transformation in a positive light – notably by saying goodbye to time-consuming and demotivating tasks with little added value while encouraging people to step safely outside their comfort zone.
All-in-all, management consultant Tom Peters summarizes the stakes of change management perfectly: “Change is about recruiting allies and working each other up to have the nerve to try the next experiment.”
Change comes from within
There’s no doubt that digital transformation is a hugely complex task for businesses and finance departments, but by having a clear vision for the end-stage and implementing gradually after strategic planning will help get every member of your team moving in the same direction.
However, there must always be room for flexibility. To view digital transformation as a success, employees have to embrace change, so make sure that everyone in the company is on board to keep moving in the right direction.
Why content should be at the heart of successful agile marketing
By Yogesh Shah, CEO, iResearch.
During this time of unprecedented business change, campaigns today need to be agile, flexible and responsive and companies need to approach the challenge of customer engagement. Research confirms that content marketing is regarded as the most effective way to engage, reinforce sentiment and build relationships – yet two thirds of marketers will still default to traditional advertising methods despite the obvious constraints.
With the current shift towards light touch, more agile marketing projects and the need to rapidly evolve the corporate voice and embrace new sentiments, it is time for marketers to be confident and back their faith in content marketing, insists Yogesh Shah, CEO, iResearch.
Create responsive and engaging content
In recent years, content marketing has helped to build and maintain trust and nurture customer relationships, demonstrating the increasingly important role it has in the marketing mix. Over the past few months however, it is providing a new level of value. With pressure on budgets and often limited staff resources, many of the leading content generators have been revisiting existing resources and discovering a pool of valuable insights that could be repurposed to meet immediate needs. Those organisations with a good content strategy in place have been able to quickly respond to the need for more frequent messaging and customer interaction to provide essential assurance.
Agile content is used by active content marketers in today’s ever-changing world, with marketers rapidly refocusing activity and moving away from the landmark six to eight-month content projects anchored to one piece of extensive research. Companies have rapidly recognised the value of light touch research that can be created in a few weeks. The focus, the messaging and the voice can be continually evolved and pivoted in response to changing attitudes and business focus. Companies can be far more speculative, even experimental – leveraging the real time and continuous feedback via social engagement to track and monitor engagement before moving onto the next topic.
Marketers are already recognising the value of this agile approach – as a recent survey of global marketers conducted by iResearch confirmed. The senior marketers surveyed agreed that content marketing delivers the highest levels of audience engagement compared to other forms of marketing. With this in mind, the question has to be asked: why do 66% of marketers still believe advertising is an effective marketing strategy?
The flexibility of content marketing significantly offers a broad range of opportunities and reuse, from blogs to articles, white papers to webinars – especially at a time of continuously evolving messaging. It is the ideal platform to support the shift in corporate sentiment that has become increasingly important as businesses evolve the focus and consider their purpose from a societal perspective.
The financial institution that has created an array of powerful content relating to the value of education in third world countries in invigorating economies is one example. This project not only built brand awareness and but also reinforced the company’s positive role in society and its expertise within third world investment. Other companies have pivoted the message towards sustainability, leveraging research insight to demonstrate the opportunities to drive operational improvements and profit as part of creating a more sustainable, circular business model.
Content marketing enables businesses to demonstrate their knowledge and area authority, but also provides a chance to focus on specific audience groups, to build engagement and customer relationships. And it works. As the survey confirmed, a third of marketers believe opinion based content provides the best engagement and 71% believe thought leadership provides the best results for sentiment and relationship building. 61% of marketers also believe that issues-led content that shows an understanding of the audience’s business or industry challenges receives higher engagement.
Responding to Martech opportunities
It is hugely challenging to manage messages at a time of continuous change. But those companies that embrace and refine content marketing strategies will not only improve customer engagement today, but will also be well placed to respond to the personalisation opportunities offered by Martech.
From AI to automation, Martech will offer marketers the chance to achieve mass personalisation for content marketing. To do this will require a wealth of strong, readily accessible content across themes, vertical markets, and geographic areas to enable personal engagement that truly reflects each customer’s interests. Companies that choose to explore light touch content marketing to support the current need for evolving customer engagement models will gain confidence, have the chance to refine the type and tone of voice and embrace the opportunity to manage and support changing business needs.
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